The Things that are God's

This is the prepared text of the homily I delivered at Chapel on the Green in New Haven, CT, 10/22/2017

Give to the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It’s a well-known quote that we can look at a bunch of different ways. It is Jesus giving a clever reply to some people trying to trap him. We like clever replies; especially in this age of Twitter and Facebook, where the snarkier a reply is the more we like them.

Jesus’ reply takes the focus away from the Pharisee’s challenge to his authority, and puts it on the bigger issues: taxes, money, and God. None of us like not having enough money. We don’t like having to give our money to other people, especially when we don’t seem to have enough money for ourselves. And in all of this, we too often forget about God. We need to be thinking about what we should be giving to God.

After all, that picture on our money is of some dead politicians, but we are serving a living God. Look around you. Where do you see the hand of our living God? Where do you see God in this beautiful fall day, in the leaves changing color, in the squirrels running across the green? Do you see God in the faces of those around you? Do you see God in your own reflection? Think about that for a moment. Stop and look around. Where do you see God?

This is the place in the homily where preachers normally go on to explain that ultimately all things come from God and we should be giving back to God some of the wonderful things God has given us. But sometimes – sometimes it just feels like all those wonderful things from God are too few and far between. We might try to think of great things God has given us and even be able to recognize that this beautiful day is a gift from God, but somehow, in our pain and brokenness, it just doesn’t feel like a great gift.

So let me offer another way of thinking about this. If all things come from God, where do you and I come from? That’s right. God. Each one of us is a gift from God. We are a gift from God to ourselves and to the people around us. We are gifts from God just waiting to be seen and recognized. I see you. I recognize you as a beautiful gift from God, even when you might not feel like a beautiful gift from God.

In a little while, we are going to share food, smiles, perhaps even some hugs. We are going to share with one another some of the gifts God has given us. I hope we will also share the recognition that each one of us is a gift from God, a gift from God that Jesus has called us to give to God. I hope that as we go forth from Chapel on the Green, we will remember that we are gifts of God to the people around us and that we can truly be that gift when one of our friends is particularly struggling.

Give to the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.


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In the Shadow of #Charlottesville: Blessed are the Peacemakers – Ginny Bouvier

This morning, I delivered the homily at the memorial service for Ginny Bouvier. Before I speak, I like to spend time in prayer. This morning, before my prayer time, I glanced at the news on Facebook. The wife of a friend of mine was gathering with clergy in Charlottesville, VA in response to the Unite the Right march planed there. I watched a live stream from Charlottesville of clergy praying and singing this little light of mine before I shutdown the computer, prayed, and headed over to the service.

I mentioned Charlottesville and the importance of peacemakers in our country, here today before I delivered the following homily. Please continue to pray for peace, for peacemakers, as well as for those who mourn the passing of a great peacemaker.

Today, we gather to remember Ginny Bouvier. Mingled with the grief and sadness of her passing, I suspect many of us will also feel a sense of awe and wish we had known Ginny better. You see, today we are remembering an important peacemaker. Jesus spoke about peacemakers in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Sometimes we may think of ourselves as peacemakers - like when we get to friends to make up after a silly argument. That’s an important form of peacemaking. Yet Ginny’s peacemaking was on a very different level. In her position as chief of operations in Colombia for the U.S. Institute of Peace, she played a vital role in reaching the peace treaty which resulted in Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’ve always been interested in those who work behind the scenes, the way Ginny did. I remember when I first learned about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and wondered who were those nuns that prayed over him. St. Francis asked God to make him an instrument of God’s peace, and I think those nuns played an important, though often overlooked role.

Perhaps this tells us something about some of Ginny’s success. You see, Ginny included the overlooked in her work. The United States Institute of Peace noted that the peace accord was “unprecedented in its inclusion of victims, women and minorities, due in no small part to Ginny’s unrelenting support and advice to so many of those involved”.

An obituary in the Wellesley Underground, an alternative alumnae magazine, speaks of Ginny as a “secret Wellesley” an important person whom others find out later, went to Wellesley. Ginny “had been the first ever Latin American Studies major at Wellesley”. The author goes on to say, “though she hasn’t been part of the pantheon of Wellesley heroes, many of us who work on gender, peacebuilding, or Latin America policy would agree she deserves to be.”

Another aspect of Ginny, which is very important to many of us here, was her love of poetry. Her mother Jane told me that while Ginny was in the hospital, a young Dominican brother came and read her poetry, almost every day. It is part of why the adapted version of John Donne’s No Man is an Island is so meaningful. It was adapted to be more inclusive, the way Ginny worked on making the peace process in Colombia more inclusive. It was adapted to reference Colombia because of her work for peace there and how Colombia is the less as a result of her passing. The bell tolls for Colombia. It tolls for all of us.

Her love of literature went beyond just poetry. In 2014, when Gabriel García Márquez died, she wrote a blog post in memory of him. “The entire world mourns with Colombia as we also celebrate his life and legacy.” We can say the same about her life and legacy.

Later on in the blog post, she writes, “It is ultimately our capacity for imagination and faith that allows hope to triumph over despair, life to conquer death, love to conquer hate, and forgiveness to win out over vengeance. In the end, it is our exercise of imagination that allows peace to claim victory over war.”

These are important words for us to consider today. Our imagination and faith will sustain us as we mourn. It fits nicely with the reading from Revelation. The Faith Study Group here at Grace and St. Peter’s has been studying this book and this week we discussed the passage read today.

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. It is the promise to those “who have come safely through the terrible persecution”. It is also God’s promise to us today.

As Jane and I talked about the music for the service we tried to find some way of working “Julian of Norwich”, sometimes called “Loud are the bells of Norwich” by Sydney Carter into the program.

“All shall be well, I'm telling you, let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. “

So, as we mourn the passing of Ginny Bouvier, let us all aspire to be peacemakers, to include those too often overlooked, to rely on our faith and imagination, and to trust that God will wipe away every tear and all shall be well again. Amen

The Marriage of Rebekah and Isaac

This the prepared version of the sermon I preach Sunday, July 9, 2017 at Grace and St. Peter's Church, Hamden, CT:

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in Your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Today, we celebrate the marriage of Rebekah and Isaac. It was a very different time when they were married so it may be helpful to reflect on how views of marriage has changed over the ages. It isn’t that long ago that people believed marriage should only occur between people of the same race and ethnicity and not between people of the same gender. In fact, there are still some people who cling to that belief today. Others still support child marriage. Save the Children’s annual report, “The End of Childhood Index”, reports four million girls under the age of fifteen are married each year.

Historically, marriage has too often been about the transfer of property and about maintaining power. It has too rarely been about choice, consent, and love. The story of Rebekah is different.

It starts off sounding like it may be just like another one of those stories of procuring property. Abraham’s servant tells Laban that he has been sent to get a wife for Abraham’s son. It almost sounds like he’s been sent out to the store. Don’t go down to the local store and pick up a Canaanite daughter. Head over to my father’s house and get a wife for Isaac there. And maybe while you’re there, you can pick up some milk and honey as well.

It all sounds so transactional. It is a good deal for Laban. His sister will have a wealthy husband, with “flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys”. And, if you think about it, in many ways, things are still the same today. People go to networking events to meet others that many be helpful in their careers. In the past, I’ve attended churches where it often seems people attend to for the sake of the connections; “the Social Register Churches”. Perhaps, there is even an aspect of this transactionality in our discussions about finding a new priest, one that will help us get enough pledging people in the pews.

But the story of Rebekah is much more than transactional tale where a wife is acquired. The servant of Abraham prays, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going!” He describes a sign he wants God to give that he might recognize “the woman whom the Lord has appointed”. What are our prayers for our own lives and for the life of Grace and St. Peter’s? How much are we trying to find what the Lord has appointed for us, as opposed to what we want? How much do we even think in these terms throughout our daily lives?
True, we might ask at times, “What would Jesus do?” in terms of trying to make some sort of moral decision, but do we ask God for success in all our undertakings, for success in finding what God wants of us?

There is even more to this story. When the servant determines that Rebekah does in fact meet the requirements and does seem to be what the Lord has appointed, the servant bows his head and worships the Lord. I suspect most of us would do well to spend more time worshipping the Lord when we find success in our undertakings, when we realize what God really wants for us.

This now leads us to a place where Rebekah’s marriage is different from the typical transactional transferals of property in olden days.

“They called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’” Consent. Rebekah is so much more than just another piece of property to be transferred. She, like all of us, is beloved by God, created in God’s image. Her consent matters. We should be seeking the consent of others in many of the things that we do. Too often, we act assuming that we have the consent of those around us, thinking it is our right to do something, perhaps even realizing that people would object, but that we can get away with whatever we want to do.

It seems to me that this is part of what is poisoning our public life. We focus on what we want, instead of what God wants and those around us want. It seems particularly problematic in politics today. This week, we celebrated the Declaration of Independence. Perhaps some of you read it this week.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

The ideas of the equality of all men, and women, of unalienable rights endowed by God, and of the importance of consent, are all important ideas that run through both the story of the marriage of Rebekah and Isaac and through the Declaration of Independence.

The story of Rebekah and Isaac in today’s reading ends in a happily ever after sort of way. “Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.”
Yet we know that there is much more to the story of Rebekah and Isaac and next week’s lesson comes with the teaser, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided”.

What else do we know about Rebekah? In the lesson, Rebekah tells Abraham’s servant that she is “The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him”. She is not just some random servant girl at the well. She is of noble birth, and yet, promises to draw water for the camels and carries out the promise. She is described in Jewish commentaries as showing boundless loving kindness, a key characteristic of the family of Abraham.

Then, there is the tradition of the three miracles of Sarah that continued with Rebekah when she entered Sarah’s tent. These miracles are that a lamp burned in her tent from Shabbat eve to Shabbat eve, there was a blessing in her dough, and that a cloud hovered over her tent symbolizing the presence of God. There was always enough, enough oil for the lamp to last from one week until the next, and enough so that the first fruits could always be given to God. God was always there and it was enough

It seems as if, in our modern day, there is never enough. Our culture of consumerism constantly tells us to want more, not that we need more, just that we should want it. It is this wanting of more than just enough, that draws us away from recognizing the importance of consent and from treating those around us with the respect and dignity they deserve as people beloved by God and created in God’s image.

It is this culture of consumerism that leads us not to give our first gifts to God out of a fear that there won’t be enough, enough to meet all that we’ve been led want, whether we need it or not, whether or not it is something good for us.

And it is this culture of consumerism that draws our attention away from the presence of God, from the ability to look around us and see the beauty of God’s creation, the love that God has for us, each and every moment of our lives.

This leads us to another aspect of marriage that we need to consider; the metaphorical marriage of Christ. Scripture is full of references to Christ as the Bridegroom. The faith study group is looking at the Book of the Revelation, where we find verses like Revelation 21:2

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

A little later, we read in Revelation 22:17

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.”

Much of this language is about the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, all of us, collectively, as the bride of Christ. Yet for St. Catherine of Sienna and for many nuns, this mystical marriage is not just a collective or corporate relationship. It is a very personal intimate relationship with God. The great mystic writer, St. Teresa of Avila talks about spiritual marriage as a “secret union [that] takes place in the innermost centre of the soul where God Himself must dwell”.

It seems as if, here in the twenty-first century, we are much less likely to talk about spiritual topics. Too many people rarely talk about church itself, let alone talking about spirituality and union with God. Yet it also seems like God remains waiting for us in a spiritual union. It seems as if God is asking us, similar to how Laban and Abraham’s servant asked Rebekah, if we are willing to go with God. We may be distracted. We might not be paying close enough attention to all that God has for us, and at best we reply, without looking up from our laptop or cellphone, “um, yeah. Sure.”

If we do stop and think about it, we may also hesitate. In chapter 10 of Matthew, Jesus talks about sending us out like sheep among wolves, warning us
“Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues”. Personally, I have no desire to be flogged.

Yet this week, in chapter 11, we find Jesus telling us “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How do we fit the warnings of Matthew 10 together with the promise of Matthew 11? Perhaps, the analogy of marriage fits nicely here. I clear the table. I load and unload the dishwasher. I carry laundry upstairs and down. I sweep the floor. I carry the groceries in from the car and help put them away, not because I enjoy the tasks, in and of themselves. They are tedious. I do these tasks, not simply because they have to be done. I do these things as an expression of love for my wife, with a hope that the completion of these tasks will bring her joy. By approaching tasks this way, I can be joyful as I, yet again, place the plates in the cupboard.

When I look at the groceries and see that Kim has picked up oatmeal for me and yoghurt for me, I am reminded in these simple ways, that our love is mutual.

On Friday evenings, I come to help with Dinner for a Dollar. Each week, many of the same people are there showing God’s love by helping. Experiencing God’s love in sharing a meal with us. There are plenty of other things to do on a Friday evening, just like there are on a Sunday morning, but we choose to use these times to rest in God’s love for us as we share that love with others.

Our burden is lighter when we do all things for the love of God. The seventeenth century Carmelite, Brother Lawrence, had some important things to say on this. In “Practicing the Presence of God”, we read,
“in his business in the kitchen (to which he had naturally a great aversion), having accustomed himself to do everything there for the love of God and asking for His grace to do his work well, he had found everything easy during the fifteen years that he had been employed there”

In one prayer, Brother Lawrence says, “Lord of all pots and pans and things,… make me a saint by getting meals, and washing up the plates” and in another place, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

Rebekah said “yes” to the invitation from Abraham’s servant, and her life was blessed. St. Catherine and St. Teresa sought union with God and their lives were blessed. Brother Lawrence sought to do all things out of the love of God and found his life easy as a result.

Jesus tells us
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

May we all find our own ways of doing the dishes, drawing closer to God, saying “yes”, and finding our God’s rest for us. Amen.

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What Do We Do While Waiting?

Below is the sermon I preached at Grace and St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Hamden, CT on May 28th, 2017, Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year A. The texts were Acts 1:6-14, Psalm 68:1-10, 33-36, 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11, John 17:1-11

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.

Today is a strange day in the church calendar. It is the Sunday after Ascension Day. It is the Sunday before Pentecost. It is the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. It is the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It is a day to honor those who have fought and died for us; those who have fought and died for us in the fields of battle, and He who died for us on the Cross.

It seems there’s been a lot of dying in the news recently. The terrorists attack on concert-goers in Manchester, England, and on Christians in Minya, Egypt, and the stabbing deaths on a train in Portland, Oregon are reminders to us of the dangerous world we live in and the importance of those who have given their lives in wars around the world to protect our freedom and safety.

Ascension Day was Thursday, which we celebrate during our service today. We celebrate Jesus’ ascension as we hold onto the promise of Pentecost for next week, that God will send the Holy Spirit to us. Today marks the final week of the Easter Season together with the waiting for the season Pentecost. It is a time liturgy wonks argue about. Should the Pascal candle, celebrating Jesus presence here with us on earth after his resurrection be extinguished on Ascension day, or should it remain lit until Pentecost?

We are living through something similar here at Grace and St. Peters right now. We finished celebrating a beloved priest who has been with us for many years and has now left, and we are waiting for the arrival of our next priest. What should we be doing in this time of many unknowns?

It seems to capture a feeling many of us have right now; especially, those celebrating the birth of a new child, or the graduation of loved ones, the strange mixture of celebrating, mingled with the anticipation of what is to come next. We celebrate the birth of a child as we wait to see what she will grow up to be like. We celebrate graduations as we wait for the new graduates to head off to college or their first job. It raises the question, “What do we do while waiting?”

When I was in college, I was in the play “Waiting for Godot”, and part of the answer was, “we could do our exercises”. What are the exercises we should be doing right now, while we wait?

Today’s Gospel lesson gives us a hint: “Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Here we see the celebration of Jesus’ ascension, as well as hints about what is to come next, of Pentecost and eternal life. God is to be glorified, but in the midst of the pain and suffering around us like the attacks in Manchester England, in Minya, Egypt, and in Portland Oregon, as well as in our own turmoil and suffering, it can be hard to glorify God.

These are the exercises we need to be doing, becoming more grateful and thankful for what we have around us, in spite of current suffering. Glorifying God and showing appreciation to people around us in spite of current struggles.

I must confess, I’m not so great at giving God, or anyone, for that matter, the glory that is deserved. The liturgy, the prayer book, and related reminders help us a bit with giving God glory, but I really suck at expressing appreciation to those around me. There is so much suffering, complacency, and frankly, I’m just out of practice at giving God, and those around me, the thanks they are due.

The Epistle says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ's sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.”

The ordeals around us may not be particularly fiery; let us hope they aren’t. We all have ordeals in our lives which are very painful, but we’re not getting shot at for going to church or stabbed for protecting another person. We read the news and posts from friends online, and we hear so much more suffering. Personally, at times it feels really hard to rejoice, let alone rejoice in any sort of suffering and I certainly pray we don’t get to a place where we might be shot at for going to church.

A second thing that gets in the way of properly giving glory, showing gratefulness or thanksgiving, is our complacency, the tendency to take for granted all the wonderful things that are around us all the time. Every week day morning, I get up, eat my oatmeal, take a shower, and head off to work.

If you eat oatmeal pretty much every morning for breakfast, like I do, it is fairly easy to forget how wonderful it is to be able to have a nourishing breakfast every morning. It seems like just the same old oatmeal. But for too many people who are food insecure, a nice warm bowl of oatmeal each morning would be a great blessing.

Presiding Bishop Curry of the Episcopal Church, together with Presiding Bishop Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has called us to fast on the 21st day of each month through the end of next year “because that is the day when 90% of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits run out for families”.

Bishop Curry says, “Perhaps we in the Episcopal Church, perhaps we in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, perhaps we who are Christians and people of faith and goodwill have come to the kingdom for such a time as this, to help our country make sure that no child goes to bed hungry.” It is a way to advocate for children that go hungry in America. It is a way to remember to be grateful.

The same applies to the daily shower. 783 million people in the world do not have access to clean water. 2.5 billion don’t have access to adequate sanitation. A warm daily shower is an incredible blessing. We should be thankful for access to clean water and adequate sanitation. We should be advocating to improve access to clean water and sanitation.

Likewise, having a good job to go to, and the means to get there is another wonderful blessing that it is so easy to take for granted, especially when work is challenging or tedious.

Personally, I am also particularly blessed to have a wife who is a wonderful cook. When we manage to find time to sit down to dinner together, I can be pretty sure that it is going to be a great meal. When it is a great meal, which is pretty much always, well, that’s expected, and I too easily forget to tell Kim what a wonderful meal it was.

Yet there is another reason I really suck at giving praise, whether it be to God, or to those who do wonderful things around me. It just isn’t the way I was brought up. It isn’t something I’m well practiced at. When I was a child, my father was a perfectionist. It felt like nothing I could do was ever good enough. It felt like I never got sufficient acclaim for my successes, so I never learned to give acclaim to others.

I know this is something I need to get a lot better at. Many of you are much better at it that I am, but I suspect we all could get a lot better at showing gratitude and being thankful. We should all practice being more thankful, showing more gratitude, not only for ourselves, but for those who could learn from our example.

What might it be like, if we were all more grateful, more thankful? The Epistle says a little bit about this, “the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you”. The Gospel adds to it with this: Jesus, speaking about the disciples who would see the Ascension, and, indeed about all of us, says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

You know, when I hear people talking about “knowing God and Jesus Christ” it raises all kinds of concerns for me. It does seem like we all “know God” on some certain level. I know who the President of the United States is. He’s not a personal friend of mine, and there are plenty of things it seems we disagree on, but I know who he is. I suspect many people have similar relationships with God. Sure, they know of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. They might even make it to church regularly, but God might still feel like a bit of an abstract concept or a distant being, not a personal friend, but someone they disagree with.

At the other end of the spectrum, too often, I’ve heard people ask “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” I have a lot of issues with this, too. It makes Jesus Christ sound like some sort of buddy, or BFF – best friend forever - which I don’t really have a big problem with in and of itself, but it often feels like it is used to separate the “cool kids who are Christian” from all of the other people who might not really be cool or Christian.

It also too often feels like takes away a little bit from the aspect of God as majestic, mysterious, transcendent; of God, the unknowable, surpassing human understanding; of Jesus Christ who died, rose again, and ascended in heaven.

So, what does it mean to know God, today, this Memorial Day Weekend, 2017, the beginning of Ramadan, the Sunday after the Ascension and before Pentecost?

There is an old saying that a good sermon should comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Perhaps is a good way to look at the challenge of today’s lessons. Are you grieving? Know that God loves you, that amidst our pain and suffering God does in fact, bring hope and healing.

Do you have problems being grateful or thankful? A lot of us do. Let’s work on it together. Let’s do our exercises together. Let’s practice being aware of the simple blessings, even as simple as a nice bowl of oatmeal, or a warm shower. Let’s make an effort to show our thankfulness, not only to God, but also to those around us.

Is God a nice idea to you, but not someone you know, that you spend time with? Spend time in prayer, perhaps just quietly listening, waiting for God. Does your sense of God lack mystery and majesty? Spend time thinking about the Ascension.

Think about the end of today’s Psalm:

Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places!

Today’s Gospel is part of a larger context. It is the longest prayer of Jesus in the Gospels; The “High Priestly Prayer”, part of the Farewell Discourse. The prayer ends with Jesus praying, “that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus is praying for our oneness with one another and with God, a oneness that is both personal and profound, a oneness that helps us get past our pain, suffering, fear, complacency, or even lack of practice of showing love to God and one another. Let us pray this ourselves.

Ascribe power to God; his majesty is over Israel; his strength is in the skies. How wonderful is God in his holy places! the God of Israel giving strength and power to his people! Blessed be God!


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Sermon for Chapel on the Green, Mother’s Day, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2017

Below is the prepared text for a sermon I preached at Chapel on the Green in New Haven, CT on May 14th, 2017, Mother's Day, Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A. The texts were Acts 7:55-60,Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, or Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Happy Mother’s Day. I was undecided about whether to talk about Mother’s day today. It is a hard day for many of us. My mother died in a car accident during Hurricane Sandy four and a half years ago. Friends of mine have struggled to become mothers or have lost their children. Mother’s day is hard for many of us. Yet the ideal of motherhood, of unconditional love, is something we hear about in the lessons today.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we here the phrase, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. It’s a lovely thought, but what does this say to us, here, today? Usually, when people talk about this, they are talking about some future time, a time when Jesus returns. Jesus goes on to say, “I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Yeah, it’s a lovely thought, but for some of us, hearing that “things will be better sometime in the future” can feel pretty empty.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. What does this really have to say to us, here, today? What does this say to those of us who have been dwelling on a friend’s couch, a park bench, or under a bridge? What does it say to those of us who are living with turmoil and strife?

Perhaps we can get some ideas about this by thinking about what Jesus says a little later on: “so that where I am, there you may be also.” How much of the time do we really feel that we are where Jesus is? What does that feel like anyway? Later on, Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”. Do we feel this sort of closeness with God?

Again, when we are living with turmoil and strife, God often doesn’t feel that close. When we are distracted by all that is going on around us. God doesn’t often feel that close.

“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. Even when God doesn’t feel that close, the invitation remains. We are invited to dwell with God. We are invited to let our minds dwell on God’s loving kindness towards us.

The Psalm is a good example of how we can accept this invitation. “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge”. A refuge is a special type of dwelling. It is a place of safety, of shelter from danger. We all face dangers daily. Beside physical dangers, we face the danger of being distracted by all that is around us. We face the danger of forgetting that what really makes us safe is God. We face the danger of forgetting what it is like to dwell in God.

So, what is it like to dwell in God? This isn’t something we tend to think or talk about much these days. Perhaps some of it is when we look to people who seem to dwell in God, they seem somehow different from the rest of us.

Look at St. Stephen, the first Christian Martyr. His love for God appears unconditional. Even as Stephen gets killed he prays, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Really? I don’t want to be a martyr. I have a hard enough time asking the God forgive someone who has simply been unkind to me. St. Stephen seems to do more than I could ever dream of. Yet in old Christian texts, you find people talking about how they want to become martyrs for Christ, to win the martyr’s crown of gold.

So, what is it like to dwell in God? God just doesn’t seem to be a big part of many people’s lives these days. It’s sad really, because dwelling with God can be wonderful. Feeling God’s peace, love, and joy can be wonderful.

Recently, I heard a great poem by Raymond Carver:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Dwelling in God is to feel oneself beloved. It is feeling too few of us feel very often. It is a feeling all of us long for. So let me pause for a moment for each of you to hear this. Listen closely. You are beloved. You are special. God created you to do something very special. You are beloved. You are special. God created you to do something very special.

What are we created to do? Mother Theresa says, “We have been created in order to love and to be loved.”

This ability to love those around us, even when they might seem unlovable is something truly amazing. It is how we dwell in God. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these”

Greater works than the works of Jesus? That seems really hard to imagine, but it is part of the promise Jesus makes to us. The works Jesus did were based on him showing God’s love to us. He showed that love to us in healing those around him. He showed that love to us by feeding those around him. He showed that love to us by accepting those around him.

But that area around him was limited. He was just one person, after all. He didn’t have the modern means of travel or communications that we have. We are called to do the works he did around us, to feed, to heal, to love. And part of what can make our works greater is our ability to do these works, not only in Israel, but here in New Haven, here in Connecticut, across the country and around the globe.

True, we may not love as perfectly as Jesus loved us. We may not ever heal a leper or raise a person from the dead, but the vastness of this ability to love is truly amazing if we allow ourselves to love, and if we allow ourselves to be loved.

And this presents another challenge, not only must we choose to love, we must choose to let others love us. The song Desperado comes to mind.

Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, open the gate
It may be rainin', but there's a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you (let somebody love you)
You better let somebody love you before it's too late

Can we let those around us love us, in spite of our own brokenness? In spite of having been told, too often, that we are not good enough? Can we let Jesus love us, in spite of our own brokenness? In spite of knowing all the things we’ve done wrong in the past?
“You better let somebody love you.”

Perhaps this helps better understand the verse we started with. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places”. We can enter the dwelling place of the heart of Jesus. We can let Jesus love us and we need to respond with love. We can let God change our hearts to also be dwelling places of love. We can hold those around us in our hearts and allow those around us to hold us in their hearts. We can let somebody love us.

Because God does love us. There are people around us that love us. And even though it might not always feel that way, we can know, that along with Raymond Carver, we are beloved on the earth.

God loves you. It isn’t just a nice phrase to say to try and cheer someone up. It is a way of life we are all called to. God loves you. I love you. Now go forth and love one another, even as God has loved us. Amen.

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